By Nick Gibson of EuroleagueAdventures.com
BARCELONA — So you’ve played in the NBA before. That’s terrific.
The thing is, nobody in Europe really cares. The fans might enjoy the novelty, but your teammates aren’t impressed, your coaches won’t tie you to a longer leash, and management has a loophole at the ready whenever they feel like voiding your deal, which is most likely the heftiest on the books.
Being an NBA talent means just that: you’re talented. However, talent alone is not nearly enough to compete in what is now the world’s best functional basketball competition, the Euroleague. Only the savvy, disciplined and hyper- efficient players earn respect, and only experience creates stars.
So when Ty Lawson and Sonny Weems of Zalgiris squared off against Nenad Krstic and Andrei Kirilenko of CSKA Moscow in Monday’s Euroleague opener, it’s no shock that the Serb and the Russian shone more brightly.
For the NBAer playing his first European basketball game, this isn’t just another chapter in his career; it’s the first page of an empty novel.
How they stacked up:
1. Andrei Kirilenko, CSKA Moscow: 17 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks and no turnovers and a 37 ranking in 32 minutes.
Can you imagine if he were getting paid?
2. Danilo Gallinari, Emporio Armani Milano: 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 turnovers, 11 fouls drawn and a 28 ranking in 34 minutes.
During his rookie year with the Knicks, 58 percent of his shots were threes. The next season that number dropped to 53, then 47 and finally 39 percent with the Nuggets in the Post-Melo-Deal Era.
While the threes were seeping out of his arsenal, Danilo started Eurostepping his way to the free throw line more and more, topping out at 6.3 attempts per game in 62 games last season (48 with New York, 14 of them with Denver).
Since tiptoeing into the league as Mike D’Antoni’s pet project back in 2008, Gallo has turned himself into a real live basketball player. Still, only twice in 171 NBA games had Gallinari ever found himself at the stripe as often as he did yesterday, when he made 13 of his 16 tries to lead Milano—along with Malik Hairston’s 25 points—to a humongous, tone-setting 89-82 victory over Maccabi Electra.
After one game in Italy, it doesn’t look like the Euroleague is going to soften him up any.
3. Rudy Fernandez, Real Madrid: 19 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a 13 ranking in 29 minutes of a 100-76 victory over Belgacom Spirou.
If television adds 10 pounds, Spain must subtract the same in kilos. Looking wiry as ever, Rudy is rocking the Flock of Seagulls hair-do to perfection and settling in as Madrid’s leader. The man who has made a career out of openly craving attention is finally getting his wish, and savoring every minute of it.
4. Nicolas Batum, Sluc Nancy: 13 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 turnovers and a 19 ranking in 40 minutes of an 80-69 loss to Bennet Cantu.
The box score might not indicate it, but I’m pretty sure Batum started at point guard-through-power forward and Akin Akingbala played center. I know that’s what it felt like.
5. Sasha Vujacic, Anadolu Efes: 14 points, 2 assists, 4 steals and a 16 ranking in 32 minutes of an 84-73 victory over Partizan Belgrade.
Maria Sharapova’s fiancée launched into the old “Machine” routine right from the tip with 10 early points, but powered down once Efes had the game well in hand.
I’m not really sure why he didn’t hang 20 or 30 last night. He probably just didn’t feel like it.
6. Ersan Ilyasova, Anadolu Efes: 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 2 blocks and a 20 ranking in 24 minutes against Partizan.
For a franchise named after beer, Anadolu Efes enjoyed every drop of Ersan’s Kirilenko Light.
7. Danny Green, Union Olimpija: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and an 18 ranking in 37 minutes of an 86-64 loss to FC Barcelona.
Aside from big Ratko Varda, Danny was the only guy unshaken in the presence of the mighty, mighty Barcelona. Nobody, however, joined him in his sideline dance routines.
8. Kevin Seraphin, Caja Laboral: 10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block and a 9 ranking in 15 minutes of a 69-66 victory over Fenerbahce Ulker.
Seraphin is different from most of the Europeans on this list in that he was by no means an established force before leaving the continent for the NBA. By packing some high quality minutes into this summer’s EuroBasket, and now a solid Euroleague opener, he’s well on his way.
So brighten up, Wizards fans. Maybe this lockout isn’t so bad, after all. Then again, maybe it is.
9. Nikola Pekovic, Partizan Belgrade: 21 points, 6 rebounds, 12 fouls drawn and a 29 ranking in 19 minutes (fouled out) against Anadolu Efes.
The Montenegran monster looked like a dog sprung loose after a long stint in his kennel, eager to see what he’d missed but still a little stiff after being crammed inside for so long. He certainly didn’t shy away from contact, plowing through whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted, but he’ll need to crank it down a notch and stay out of foul trouble if he wants to win Partizan some games. Even with Milan Macvan in town, the boys in black won’t advance with Pek on the bench.
10. Alonzo Gee, Asseco Prokom: 10 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and a 15 ranking in 28 minutes of a 76-72 loss to Galatasaray.
One of the few bright spots in a game that I sort of wish I’d never watched.
11. Sonny Weems, Zalgiris: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals and a 15 ranking in 28 minutes.
Catch ball. Dribble ball. Find rim. Attack rim.
It took CSKA Moscow just one half of basketball to figure out Sonny’s gameplan and step in front of it, and what ended as layups, runners and foul shots in the first half mutated into blocked shots, floaters off the wrong leg and failed attempts at splitting double teams.
But aggressive is good, and with no NBA opt-out clause in his deal, the incentive for improvement is there. Once he gets smarter, he’ll get better.
12. David Andersen, Montepaschi Siena: 13 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block and an 11 ranking in 22 minutes of a 79-71 victory over Unics of Russia.
His job is simple: draw the other team’s biggest dude away from the basket so Bo McCalebb can be Bo McCalebb. A 3-11 shooting night shouldn’t be enough to rattle a defense, but fortunately for David, Europe still regards him as a threat.
Permission to chuckle at that last bit, Hornets fans. You too, Toronto.
13. Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal and a ranking of 12 in 24 minutes.
Nenad is just one of the Killer K’s that will give this CSKA team the scariest defense in Europe: Kirilenko, Sasha Kaun and Viktor Khryapa are the others. Offensively, however, he’ll need to do better than the 3-for-11 he shot against Zalgiris on Monday. Lose those 15-footers and pack it into the paint, Nenad.
Shape up, or you could lose your Macarena privileges.
14. Thabo Sefolosha, Fenerbahce Ulker: 7 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block and a 5 ranking in 21 minutes.
After gazing skyward at Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s collective chuckery for three years in Oklahoma City, it’s amazing Sefolosha doesn’t have neck problems. So imagine Thabo’s surprise when he was allowed to dribble and—get this—shoot the ball Wednesday. Crazy, right?
Still, the Euroleague refused to unchain him from his defensive reputation, rewarding him with the Steal of the Night after he intercepted Pau Ribas’ pass and took it to the house.
And yes, he fell afterwards for no apparent reason. But give him a break; he’s still getting the hang of this shooting business.
15. Reggie Williams, Caja Laboral: 6 points, 1 assist, 1 steal, 3 turnovers and a 2 ranking in 16 minutes.
Mirza Teletovic shoots so much that he’ll make Reggie miss playing with Monta Ellis. There aren’t any free cookies in this offense, so Reggie needs to fight for every last crumb.
16. Ty Lawson, Zalgiris: 7 points, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 turnover and a 4 ranking in 21 minutes.
It struck me halfway through this one that Ty Lawson probably had no idea who Milos Teodosic was. He probably knew him on an I’ll check number four! basis. Usually a sturdy enough one-on-one defender, Lawson sat back and let the former Euroleague MVP jack up eight uncontested threes, making three of them (they weren’t all Lawson’s fault; the Zalgiris defense was just as sloppy across the board).
Looks like someone needs a scouting report, and I guess you can blame that on coaching. The team’s owner sure did, as he fired head coach Ilias Zouros after just a single loss. Welcome to European basketball, folks.
17. Jordan Farmar, Maccabi Electra: 6 points, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, 2 steals and a 1 ranking in 30 minutes.
Farmar played like a skittish 8-year-old whose teenage brother finally let him play with the big kids: Pass often, don’t get too fancy and keep quiet.
Time to put on your big boy pants, Jordan.
18. DaJuan Summers, Montepaschi Siena: 4 points, 1 rebound, 1 turnover and a zero ranking in 18 minutes.
I don’t recall witnessing a single thing DaJuan did during his debut. It’s almost impressive how invisible he was.
But something tells me Siena expects him to be more than a wallflower, especially when the man he’s replacing, Malik Hairston, is racking up 25 pg for their Italian rivals, Olimpia Milano.
19. Darius Songaila, Galatasaray: 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 turnover and a ranking of 1 in 16 minutes.
Not that Darius is known for his dazzling stat lines, but this performance was particularly uninspiring. Songaila was hardly a factor in Galatasaray’s quest to qualify for the Euroleague several weeks ago, and now it’s clear that the club isn’t comfortable resting their fates on his shoulders, NBA experience or not.
Can you blame them?
20. Joey Dorsey, Caja Laboral: DNP (Dislocated thumb)
No impact beats negative impact.
21. Acie Law, Partizan Belgrade: 6 points, 3 assists, 6 turnovers and a -6 ranking in 33 minutes.
Curtis Jerrells joined Partizan’s ranks six weeks deep into the regular season last year and sputtered out of the gates, posting two and five points, respectively, in his first two outings. Then Partizan made the Top 16 and his numbers shot up across the board. In the Euroleague’s toughest group, Law might not have that luxury. Lock it up, Acie.
22. Zaza Pachulia, Galatasaray: 0 points, 1 rebound, 1 turnover and a -1 ranking in 5 minutes.
He wasn’t even on the floor long enough to pick a fight, so I don’t know if this game really counts.
Nick Gibson covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.